Historic Preservation

Why Architects Hate Curtains

While researching turn-of-the-century decorating, I came across a chapter on windows in Edith Wharton's The Decoration of Houses  that finally put into words what I wished to be able to explain so well. Edith, who became known as an accomplished novelist, began her writing career with this treatise, co-authored with Ogden Codman in 1897. Interestingly, although this book became a manual for interior designers, her position is in support of architecture-as-ornament rather than decoration-as-improvement.

As a normal part of my services as a residential architect, I help select everything from doors and windows to tile and carpet. To me, these items are part of the architecture of the building. They are as much a part of how the room feels and functions as its size, volume, and orientation.

I do not, however, "do" curtains. Those, along with movable furnishings, I consider to be the domain of an interior designer, and I limit myself as an advisor to the homeowner and/or their interior designer as to the "jobs" those items have in complementing the architectural style while fulfilling their desired function.

It is true, though, that most architects hate curtains. Well, certain kinds for certain reasons... and, Edith explains it well:

The "Job" of Windows

  • ..."light-giving is the main purpose for which windows are made...ventilation, the secondary purpose..." 
  • Windows should not be so wide that they are not opened easily. 
  • The height of the window sill should consider both the view, the need for privacy, and whether or not there is a desire to have a piece of furniture, such as a window seat, in front of the window. Lower sills offer more view, while sills placed at 3' above the floor afford more privacy from "persons approaching the house". 
  • Although the sill heights may vary "for practical reasons...the tops of all the windows should be on a level." 
  • "...the old window with subdivided panes had certain artistic and practical merits...serv[ing] to establish a relation between the inside of the house and the landscape..." 

The Purpose of Curtains 

  • "The real purpose of the window-curtain is to regulate the amount of light admitted to the room, and a curtain so arranged that it cannot be drawn backward and forward at will is but a meaningless accessory." 
  • "The better the house, the less need there was for curtains." 
  • "...the curtain...was regarded as a necessary evil rather than as part of the general scheme of decoration. The meagerness and simplicity of the curtains in old pictures prove that they were used merely as window shades or sun-blinds." (note: This book was written in 1897 and refers to artistic representations of feudal architecture, such as paintings.) 
  • "Fixed window-draperies, with festoons and folds so arranged that they cannot be lowered or raised, are an invention of the modern upholsterer. ...they have made architects and decorators careless in their treatment of openings." 

These curtains are on rings that slide easily to provide maximum privacy and block window drafts. photo copyright Dale Lang, 2009

Why Architects Hate Curtains

Bottom-up blinds are easy to operate and add privacy while filtering light. photo copyright Dale Lang, 2009

Why Architects Hate Curtains

Edith's Preferred Choice, circa 1897
"The solid inside shutter...formerly served the purposes for which curtains and shades are used, and combined with outside blinds, afforded all the protection that a window really requires. These shutters should be made with solid panels, not with slats, their purpose being to darken the room and keep out hte cold, while the light is regulated by the outside blinds. The best of these is the old-fashioned hand-made blind, with wide fixed slats, wtill to be seen on old New England houses and always used in France and Italy: the frail machine-made substitute now in general use has nothing to recommend it."

Shutters in Paris

Why Architects Hate Curtains

In Summary
"...the beauty of a room depends chiefly on its openings, to conceal these under draperies is to hide the key of the whole decorative scheme. ...The more architecturally a window is treated, the less it need be dressed up in ruffles."

Relocating a Japanese Temple

Dr. David Shaner, chairman of the philosophy department at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina (and also a friend), was entrusted in 2004 with the relocation of the Tsuzuki family's private Buddhist temple from Japan to the Furman campus. This is the first known relocation of a temple from Japan to the United States, and it was an incredible undertaking with a strict deadline of completed demolition. Years of energy and talent were required to raise funds, dismantle, transport, and rebuild the temple - including 13 Japanese craftsmen.

Read more:
Associated Content, "Palace of Peace Buddhist Temple and Asian Gardens Dedication," Sept. 18, 2008.

Lubbock Online, "Buddhist temple becomes part of university campus, " Nov. 8, 2008.

Decorating the early 1900’s home (Part Two - Kitchens, Bathrooms & Porches)

Here are some highlights from Domestic Architecture, written by architect L. Eugene Robinson, published in 1917. PART ONE of this post contained excerpts regarding living room and bedroom finishes. The excerpts below address kitchen, bathroom, and porch finishes:


  • “...cleanliness is of first importance, the treatment of materials should suggest it, and decoration need not be neglected.” 
  • “have all surfaces so treated that dust and dirt will show, but will be easy to remove. Here glazed or glossy finishes, or semi-glazed, ...are desirable.” 
  • “Plaster may be given a slick, steam-proof varnish or paint, and the wood given an enamel finish.”
  • “Wallpapers having a glazed surface are in common use...” 
  • “...should be no crevices or angles not easily reached with ordinary cleaning apparatus.” 
  • “Severity of design is becoming to the nature of the kitchen. Simple wainscotingsare very serviceable and attractive, and may be counter height, thereby forming a continuous line around the room.” 
  • “...counters...should not be treated with paint, varnish or any other material except oil. However, such working surfaces may be covered with a matting of rubber or oilcloth.” 
  • “Tile work...is highly serviceable, wainscotings, counters, facings for built-in ranges and floors being the chief parts constructed of this material.” 
  • “...main objection to tile floors is their coldness...” 
  • “A hardwood floor of oak or maple is best, if tile cannot be afforded. A cheap wood floor may be made very serviceable by laying upon it oilcloth orlinoleum.” 
  • “Color...should...suggest perfect sanitation. The best colors are white and blue, but with white or cream may be used green, brown, gray or other color.” 
  • “Colors may appear in tile borders, linoleum, wallpaper, painted surfaces and in simple hangings.” 
  • “...should be bright and pleasant but not cluttered.” 
  • “Extra large kitchens...should have more color than small ones.” 
  • Fabulous and fun vintage kitchen photos can be found at www.shorpy.com. For a direct link, click HERE


  • “Surface treatments...much the same as those for kitchens. Waterproof materials are practically essential, where water and steam are so prevalent.” 


  • “Porches are really exterior features, and should be treated much the same as other parts of the exterior.” 
  • “Light-colored paints and stains generally look better than dark.” 
  • “Masonry should not be painted under any circumstances...” 
  • “Porch floors of wood should receive several coats of exterior floor paint of neutral color, while the ceilings should be painted white or buff.” 
  • “...more than two colors of paint on a frame house should not be used, except perhaps in very limited quantities.” 
  • “The main color should cover the body of the house, while the other should serve only as a trim color. Alternate color effects should never be used.”